Veteran Affairs clinicians across the U.S. failed 73% of the time to check opioid databases before giving prescriptions to veterans. The checks are key to helping stem the opioid crisis and are required by VA policy, a new audit says. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
Photo: Charles Dharapak
Photo: Charles Dharapak

Audit: Veterans Affairs failed to monitor opioid prescriptions

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs put more than half a million veterans at risk by prescribing opioids without checking if the men and women had concurrent opioid prescriptions from other doctors, according to a government audit.

“In recent years, veterans have been hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis and are more likely to die from overdose than civilians,” added the audit, released Monday by the VA Office of the Inspector General.

Investigators reviewed prescriptions given by VA clinicians in the U.S. between April of 2017 and March of 2018 to estimate the breadth of the problem. They found VA workers failed to check state prescription databases, as they are required to do, before issuing opioid prescriptions 73% of the time. That adds up to 567,000 veterans. Nearly one in five of them — an estimated 107,000 — also had prescriptions elsewhere.

The clinicians should have also considered quarterly checks for 266,000 patients who are on long-term pain management, the audit said.

It did not specify how much more likely veterans are to die from overdose than civilians.

Drug overdoses, driven by opioids, killed nearly 70,000 Americans last year. Opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are highly addictive painkillers.

The audit found the VA failed to communicate its policies, didn’t train its employees properly and that some local policies deviated from the national one. Regional and national leaders failed to monitor and check adherence to policies.

“[Veterans Health Administration] officials did not always consider [database checks] a high priority as they implemented the Opioid Safety Initiative” the audit said.

The report outlines a series of eight steps to correct the problem.

A statement issued by the VA said it concurs with the findings. It has a plan in place to improve and standardize training, develop technology to give clinicians access to databases and to improve communications.

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